HL Deb 26 March 1985 vol 461 cc884-92

3.40 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the White Paper setting out the Government's policies for school education in England and Wales which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Statement is as follows:

"1. I wish to make a Statement about the White Paper, published today, setting out the Government's policies for school education in England and Wales. Copies of the White Paper, and a summary, are available in the Vote Office.

"2. The Government have two principal aims—to raise the standards achieved by pupils of all abilities, and to secure the best possible return for the resources invested in school education.

"3. We have set these aims because education at school needs to develop to the full the capacities of every pupil, and to promote the nation's ability to seize the challenging opportunites of a technological and competitive world. The schools need to build on Britain's values and traditions—and on its ethnic diversity. They need to educate pupils to their own full potential and for the responsibilities of citizenship and for working life.

"4. Both what is taught and how it is taught need to serve these purposes better than is now the case in many schools. National standards would rise dramatically if all schools matched the present achievements of the best comparable schools. The Government have a duty in law to take a lead in securing that all our schools have an effective curriculum, effectively delivered by those responsible.

"5. Together with its partners in the education service, and with the customers of the service, the Government will take action in four broad areas of policy to raise achievement at all levels of ability.

"6. First, we shall continue to take the lead in promoting agreement about the objectives and content of the curriculum in primary, secondary and special schools. The curriculum should be broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated for variations in pupils' abilities and aptitudes. Agreed and explicit objectives will help to focus the efforts of LEAs and schools, and motivate pupils, towards aims shared also by parents and employers.

"7. Second, we are taking action on examinations. As the House will recall, we are establishing the General Certificate of Secondary Education (the GCSE). It will serve the curriculum better than the examinations it replaces. It will put a new emphasis on understanding, on the application of knowledge, and on oral and practical skills. Through the development of grade criteria it will award grades only to those who attain the required standard in defined aspects of each subject. We shall introduce a new examination, the AS level, to broaden the programme of students on A level courses. The new CPVE will offer a wide range of courses for other students over 16. We are working towards the establishment by the end of the decade of a national system of records of achievement for all school-leavers which will record not only examination successes but also other achievements at school.

"8. Third, we shall promote teaching quality by improving the professional effectiveness of teachers and the management of the teaching force. Better initial training will result from the reform of courses the Government have already set in hand. We intend to make in-service training more effective by funding it through a specific grant to local education authorities. We will seek an early opportunity to legislate for that change, as I informed the House last week. We intend that it should be a condition of the grant that satisfactory arrangements are made for identifying and meeting the training needs of individuals and the service. Adequate arrangements for appraising the performance of each teacher are essential for the career development of individual teachers and for the good management of the teacher force; my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I will seek powers to allow us to require local education authorities to make such arrangements if we consider such action necessary.

"9. Fourth, we shall develop the contribution which governing bodies can make to good school education. In the light of the response to the Green Paper, Parental Influence at School, the Government have decided, as soon as the legislative programme permits, to propose two measures to the House. First, to entrench the powers of governing bodies of county, controlled and maintained special schools in relation to the functions of the LEA and the head teacher; second, to reform the composition of these governing bodies so that there can be an equal number of parent and LEA-appointed governors, and teachers and the local community will also be represented, with no single interest predominating.

"10. The programme of action will take time to accomplish in its entirety. It may be difficult to achieve it in full within existing real levels of expenditure per pupil. But much progress can be made if the education service gets the most out of what is available. The more it succeeds, the stronger its future claim on resources.

"11. Much of what needs to be done is neither a question of money, nor of action by the Government alone. The education service is a partnership. Each partner has important responsibilities which the Government intend to preserve. Each can do his job effectively only with the help of the others. Co-operation and professional commitment have secured notable achievements and built up many strengths in our schools. The Government believe that co-operation and professional commitment will continue to be the norm within the education service. We believe that local education authorities, the Churches and other voluntary bodies, governors, teachers, parents, employers, and all others will join in the common endeavour to make standards of achievement and behaviour at every school as good as they can be, and need to be, in the interest of the pupils and our national future".

My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend. We on these Benches agree with most of the pious sentiments expressed in the Statement. We all want to raise the standards achieved by pupils of all abilities and to secure the best possible return for the resources invested in school education. We all want a broad, balanced, relevant curriculum.

As regards promoting the nation's ability to seize the challenging opportunities of a technological and competitive world, mentioned in the third paragraph, we all want that but, as was said over and over again in yesterday's debate on education and training for new technology, the Government and industry are deluding themselves if they think that the nation's economic problems can be solved without spending money. That is what we have to say about this Statement: we must have the resources if we are to do the job. That is at the heart of the matter.

Compliments were paid in yesterday's debate to the Secretary of State. I believe that he really cares about the education service and wants to improve it, but he has to prove that care by standing up to the Treasury and getting the resources that the service needs. The Statement says that the education service is a partnership and, of course, we all agree with that. But that partnership is under very severe strain at the moment, to which the present dispute with the teachers bears witness. We must work through their co-operation and at the moment I think that the teaching force feels itself undervalued and under attack.

The value that the Secretary of State puts upon the teachers is not clear. Criticism is more evident than support. However, all the evidence is that more children are doing better at school now—if one chooses to go by examination results, which I think this Government do—than they were 10 years ago. From what I know and see as I go around we have a very dedicated teaching force, but the teachers are fed up at the moment. Their salaries are too low and the continual deterioration of the service, the lack of books, the lack of equipment and the poor general maintenance of buidings, and so on, are getting them down. That should be recognised.

We certainly would be in favour of more in-service training and would not be averse to specific grants for the purpose to make sure that the money is spent in that way. Equally, we do not want central control of the curriculum altogether. The local authorities should have their proper rights.

As regards governing bodies, I am delighted that the Secretary of State has listened to the criticism of the Green Paper, Parental Influence at School, which has been out for some time now, and that parents and local authorities are to have equal say, equal numbers, on governing bodies. What I should like to ask, which is not clear from the Statement, is: what proportion of teachers and representatives of the community is the governing body to contain?

That is all I have to say, but I do emphasise, finally, that it is a matter of resources if we are to have the education service that we need.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. In my now quite long experience, Secretaries of State for Education can be divided quite neatly into those who have a real interest in the subject and those for whom it is merely a department on their way through politics. The present Secretary of State falls into the former category, and it is no surprise that this White Paper is a rather elegant signpost forward, the directions on which most of us would welcome. I have only one question to ask in that connection. It is as to whether the money for in-service training, which we certainly welcome, is new money that we are getting into the service in this way. If so, it is doubly welcome.

But there appears to be a major hiatus. Looking at the White Paper, and certainly hearing the Statement, one would not think that our inner cities were full of depressed and declining slums with schools where, however hard the teachers try, nothing very much is happening, and with children who have no employment to look forward to, some of whom are in schools where, quite seriously, 80 per cent. of the children will probably not get employment in the foreseeable future. Are we really having a White Paper for education in this state of poverty in our inner cities and in this state of those schools? The White Paper does not appear to mention those subjects, nor put forward any suggestions whatsoever to deal with them. Surely the Minister has something more to offer us than this bland, middle-class prospectus. It is good as far as it goes, but it does not touch some of the very real problems of the education service at this present moment.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, may I thank the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for the way in which they have received this White Paper, and especially the noble Baroness, if I may say so? I was rather surprised that she started by commenting on last night's debate. I think there was a moment during that debate when she accused this Government of being shortsighted and complacent. The one thing I would have said about this White Paper is that it is neither shortsighted nor complacent.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

It is completely complacent, my Lords.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord. I do not think it is complacent at all.

As far as resources are concerned, which was very much the point that the noble Baroness was making, I think that in pursuit of the objectives of the White Paper new resolve will be far more important immediately than new money. But if the education service can demonstrate the resolve, it can do its claims to future resources nothing but good. Education spending is now at record levels. Since 1979 real spending per pupil has increased by 10 per cent. Pupil-teacher ratios are the best ever. Participation rates in nursery education are the highest ever. As overall school rolls continue to fall, the task is to apply the resources to the attainment of new objectives.

The noble Baroness made a number of comments about the state that teachers are in at the moment, and said that their morale is low. I should have thought that the White Paper would do a lot to raise their morale. It is pointing out to them what some of the best teachers and the best schools are achieving. It is pointing to their professionalism. I hope that the teachers will take that as confidence in their profession from the Government and look upon it as a morale booster and not as something that lowers their morale.

The noble Baroness asked a specific question about the numbers of governors and where they come from. I think there is a lovely table somewhere.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

Page 65, my Lords.

The Earl of Swinton

It is page 65; I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I actually have it. It gives the numbers for the different sizes of school in detail.

I really cannot take the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I imagine that he has not had an opportunity to read the White Paper in full, but I think that it covers adequately all the problems encountered in our schools, or a great many of them, at the present time.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

My Lords, I cannot make any comment on the details of the White Paper because I have not had the opportunity to see it. In my maiden speech in your Lordships' House some 10 years ago I referred to the East, where central control and direction in education were effective and freedom was low, and to the West, where too much decentralisation gave maximum freedom but in fact made educational opportunity dependent on place of birth and the money that could be afforded. During these past 10 years I have watched with increasing concern the balance that we had at an earlier point of time in the distribution of power in education being steadily eroded towards central control and direction. From what has been quoted in relation to the White Paper, it would appear to be a major step towards central control and direction in education almost in its detail. In my opinion, the distribution of power in education is absolutely essential to freedom in a democratic society.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister—

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think that one at a time is the normal procedure.

Baroness Phillips

It is not, actually, my Lords.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. I am a little surprised by what he said, because that was not exactly the line that he took when we were debating the ESG Bill in this House. He says that he has not had time to read the White Paper, so I shall give him the benefit of the doubt, but he will find that it is a partnership which we are trying to achieve still, and not centralisation.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether his department has power to make the White Paper compulsory reading for everyone engaged in education? If teachers get their view from the jaundiced version that we have had from the Liberal Bench and the rather surprising one that we had from the Cross-Benches, they will not come to the conclusions that they ought to as the operators of the matters that flow from the White Paper.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. Unfortunately, we cannot make anything compulsory reading.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he has visited any schools recently? I speak as an ex-teacher, and I think that it is about time the profession told Governments to stop interfering with their professional skills and let them get on with the job. The constant reorganisation causes nothing but illiteracy of one kind or another. We are now having a new examination—the CPVE—which is unexplainable. It does not matter how many examinations we introduced or how we re-arrange the curriculum: we need to pay our teachers properly and provide the children with books. I was in a school the other day where the books were indescribable. They were books which I had not seen when I was at school. They were old and dog-eared.

It is significant that the private sector does not constantly re-organise its education. An old friend of mine, a head teacher in a tough school, once said this to me. I am sorry if the Whip does not like it. You cannot institute your new rules.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness actually asking a question? I believe that is the custom on a Statement.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I have been in the House a little longer than the noble Baroness, and, indeed, than the noble Earl who is sitting on the Front Bench, and the custom is question and comment. If it is wished that it be only questions, then I will put this question to the Government. Why are they not more concerned to look at resources than to try to re-arrange the curriculum?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the first point. No, apparently I cannot. As far as concerns when I was last in a school, it was not last Friday but the Friday before that. I hope that that is recent enough. Unfortunately, my time does not allow me to go into as many schools as I should like to go into.

I think the noble Baroness was making most of her points about books. In fact, spending on books and equipment rose between 1981–82 and 1982–83. Between 1982–83 and 1983–84 spending on equipment rose again, but spending on books fell back a little. It is for local education authorities to decide how to allocate the resources available to them. But this year, as in previous years, the RSG settlement has reflected the importance which the Government attach to the adequate provision of books.

Again, I have given the noble Baroness the benefit of the doubt. We are consulting with teachers on the White Paper. We are trying to encourage them and to point out to them, through lessons learnt largely from the HMI, an impartial body, what are the better practices in schools. We are not trying to inflict anything upon them or saying, "You are a whole lot of naughty people who can do a lot better". Throughout the White Paper, there are examples of how well some teachers are doing in a great many schools. It is to try to encourage them that this White Paper has come out. I hope that it will be accepted in that manner.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Secretary of State is to he congratulated for having at last brought together in one wide-ranging study all the elements that go to make up the educational system, and has made proposals for improving all of them? Is he aware that the lesson surely is that we can now stop arguments about whether the bright children are getting a fair deal or whether the less intelligent ones are getting a fair deal, and agree at last on the obvious fact that the purpose of education is to develop the talents of every child, of whatever intelligence and aptitude, to the utmost?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for very much hitting the nail on the head.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, may I say—

Noble Lords

Ask a question!

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, may I ask—No, I can use the word "say"; it is a Statement. May I say that I welcome the Statement so far as it goes. The only part of the White Paper that I have read—I have read it, so I know what I am speaking about—is paragraph 65, to which I referred when the noble Earl the Minister made his comments on the proposal about governing bodies. I am glad that his right honourable friend has withdrawn most of the things that he advocated in the Green Paper. I am glad, too, that, after seven years of pioneering, along with many other people he has accepted the formula that my committee laid down, or near enough to it, at that time. I am grateful for that. I hope and look forward to early legislation on the governing bodies of schools and the powers of schools. I do not believe that I need say more at this stage. We shall have an opportunity later, I think, of going into matters in detail.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, and perhaps not altogether surprised at what he had to say, knowing his great knowledge of this subject. The noble Lord says that the Green Paper has gone out of the window, or that it has been dropped. I do not think that that is quite fair. Only one of the main proposals in the Green Paper last year—that for a parent majority on governing bodies—evoked a generally hostile reaction. The principle that parents in the community should play a greater role in the work of schools was widely endorsed. The substantial and important proposals for a new approach to define the responsibilities of school governors were also generally well received.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, the Statement refers to England and Wales. I am aware that the provision of education in Scotland is jealously guarded by the Secretary of State for Scotland, but since this is a very comprehensive review of educational practice, is it intended that a similar or parallel Statement will be made in relation to changes in the Scottish education system?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am afraid that I have not the faintest idea.

Baroness David

My Lords, as the Minister referred to resources and spending, may I ask whether it is not a fact that education spending by local authorities between 1984–85 and 1987–88 is expected to go down by 9 per cent.?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am not sure by quite how much expenditure costs are going down, but, of course, the number of pupils in the schools is also going down at the same time. I would have to find out. I have it now. The figures for real term spending per pupil implied in Command 9428 are, for primary education for 1984–85, £769.6—I am not sure whether these figures are in thousands or millions, I am afraid.

Baroness David

My Lords, can I let the Minister off the hook and ask for a written reply?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I will gladly provide that.

Lord Annan

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that in universities the changes in the sixth-form curriculum will be widely welcomed? I think it is high time that we had broader education in the sixth-form. The only comment I have to make is that in my personal view they do not go quite far enough. In my judgment it is necessary for everyone who is studying from the ages of 16 to 18 to continue to study the two most important languages of our time. One is mathematics and the other is English. These should be compulsory until the age of 18.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for the welcome that he gave to the AS level courses.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, in order to clarify the procedural question, is it in order for a humble Back-Bencher to ask the noble Baroness whether she will confirm that Standing Orders broadly lay down that it is only the spokesmen for the main political parties who may make brief comments and then ask questions, and that all other Members of your Lordships' House, in response to a Statement, should merely ask questions?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I confirm what the noble Lord has just said.